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Respiratory Care

Search Strategies

Once you are in a database, you will need to convert your topic or research question into language the computer understands. The following search techniques will help you with this process.

The first step is to determine keywords that sum up the main concepts of your topic. Keywords are typically nouns or noun phrases. If you phrase your topic as a research question or thesis, you can often pull keywords from the topic sentence.


Example topic: In older patients experiencing asthma exacerbations, does the use of mechanical ventilation decrease duration of hospitalization?

Keywords: older patients, asthma exacerbations, mechanical ventilation, hospitalization

Sometimes the keywords from your original topic sentence will not produce the types of results you want. When that happens, try to think of related keywords. These can be other words that have similar meanings, words that are broader (good for when you have too few results), or words that are more specific (good for when you have too many results).

Example related keywords:

Similar: elderly, aged, artificial respiration 
Broader: adults, asthma

Truncation (shortening your keyword) makes the search engine look at other possible forms of a word for which you are searching. Use truncation to find plurals and variations on the endings of a word. To truncate, use the asterisk symbol: *. You can enter this symbol by hitting Shift and 8 on the keyboard at the same time or by hitting the asterisk symbol on the number pad.

Search Examples

  • You want to find the following terms:
    ventilation, ventilator, ventilators

    Use ventilat*
  • You want to find the following terms:
    exacerbation, exacerbations

    Use exacerbation*
  • You want to find the following terms:
    asthma, asthmatic, asthmatics

    Use asthma*

To find an exact phrase (i.e., words in a row in an exact order), enclose the phrase in quotation marks.


  • "respiratory care"
  • "mechanical ventilation"
  • "asthma exacerbations"

Combine keywords by putting the word AND between them. This requires that both keywords be present in any found articles, but not necessarily as a phrase (i.e., words in a row in an exact order). Entries that include keywords connected by AND are referred to as search statements.

Example Search Statements

  • asthma* AND "mechanical ventilation" AND elderly AND hospital*
  • "asthma exacerbation" AND "mechanical ventilation" AND aged AND hospitalization

Note: If you use the Advanced Search feature of a database, AND is the default connector between the entry boxes:

Database Specific Strategies

Keyword searches rely on your ability to guess what the correct terms are for your topic. In health sciences, sometimes this can be tricky. In cases where your keyword searches are not working, it is a good idea to determine the correct subject terms.

Many databases assign subject headings to groups of similar articles. If you determine the correct subject term for a topic, you can use that term to find other, similar results. In CINAHL, these subject headings are called CINAHL Headings. In MEDLINE, these subject headings are called MeSH.

The searches used to identify CINAHL Headings and MeSH are very similar. The tutorial in the next section walks you through this process.

Using the CINAHL/MeSH Headings Feature in EBSCOhost

CINAHL and MeSH Subject Headings are assigned based on article content and help you retrieve more relevant results. In this tutorial, we will look at how to search using the CINAHL Headings feature. The functionality demonstrated is identical to that when searching MeSH headings in the MEDLINE databases.

We'll begin by searching for Subject Headings. Check the Suggest Terms box, then enter your term, such as catheter infections, in the search box, and click Search. You can also click on the CINAHL Subject Headings or MeSH link along the top toolbar which will also bring you to the Headings screen. A list of appropriate CINAHL headings, or subject terms, appears, defaulted to Relevancy Ranked. Your search term also appears at the bottom of the list with the option to search it as a keyword. To the right of the subject terms list is a Major Concept option which, when selected, will restrict results to those articles in which your chosen subject is a major focus. For details about this option, click on the Help icon beside it.

Click on a scope note icon in the Scope column to view the scope note for a subject term. The Tree Views, or hierarchical arrangement of subject headings, are displayed when you click the subject heading. Click the Back to Term List link to return to your list of subject terms. Check the box of a subject term to view the Subheadings, which may be selected to further refine the subject. If a subheading is not selected, all of the subheadings are searched.

When you check a subject term, it is added to the Search Term Builder box. In this example, we have selected the subject heading Catheter-Related Infections with the subheadings of Complications or Drug Therapy or Education. As you select subject headings and subheadings, your search strategy is added to the Search Term Builder box. Remove unwanted terms by clicking the red X next to the term. To browse for additional terms to add to your search, click the Browse Additional Terms link, or after making your selections, click on the Search Database button.

In this example, we will add more terms to our search. You are returned to the browse terms screen. A note lets you know that your previously selected terms have been retained enabling you to continue building your search. Next we will browse for Urinary Infections to add to our search. The list of subject headings relevant to urinary infections is displayed. Click on the term to view the Tree Views or check the box to view all Subheadings. The option to Explode is present for this term, as there is a narrower term 'under' Urinary Tract Infections - Bacteriuria. The Explode option, when selected, will search not only Urinary Tract Infections but also the more specific term of Bacteriuria. If a comprehensive subject search of all types of Urinary Tract infections is wanted, we select the Explode option. If desired, Major Concept and specific subheadings could be selected.

In this example, we will select Explode, select to combine the searches with AND, and click the Search Database button. On the result list, the search is displayed in the search box. Click the Search History link below the search box to open the Search History/Alerts window. From the Search History/Alerts window you can edit the search by clicking Edit. You can also save and edit Search Alerts. Click the Help link to view the complete online Help system.


For more information, visit EBSCO Connect .

Our EBSCO subscription provides access to five databases that may be useful for health science research:

  • Academic Search Complete
  • CINAHL (Cumulative Index of Nursing Allied and Health Literature)
  • Health Source Consumer Edition
  • PsycArticles

EBSCO allows you to search across any combination of these databases. To do this, click on Choose Databases Link

This opens a new window that contains all of the databases that EBSCO provides. Choose as many databases as you like. If you are uncertain of which database to choose, hover your mouse over the Word bubble icon to see a description of the database.

Choose Database List

Once you have selected all of the databases you wish to search, click OK. You will be returned to the original search page where you can enter your terms. Please note: some specialized search features and limits (e.g., using MeSH) are not available in a cross-database search.

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